1. Pinellas

John Jonchuck says 'voices' drove him to drop daughter from bridge

Phoebe Jonchuck rests at her grave within Tampa’s Lake Carroll Cemetery. On Jan 7, 2015, a police officer watched as her father, John Jonchuck, tossed her off the side of the Dick Misener Bridge in St. Petersburg, Fla., 62 feet above Tampa Bay. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
Published Dec. 4, 2018

In the years since authorities say John Jonchuck dropped his 5-year-old daughter into Tampa Bay from the top of a bridge, his perspective — of the night his daughter died and of the aftermath, as doctors treat him in a state mental hospital — has been missing from the public record.

For the first time, new court files reveal that Jonchuck, 29, told a doctor "voices" urged him to kill Phoebe.

"I was hearing voices saying that if me and Phoebe didn't die, everybody was going to go to hell," Jonchuck said, according to the records.

RELATED: Murder trial delayed once again for John Jonchuck

He revealed these details to a psychiatrist, Emily Lazarou, during a two-day evaluation in October 2017 and May of this year to determine his mental state at the time of Phoebe's death. Another doctor, hired to assess Lazarou's methods, quoted them in a deposition, which was made public after being filed in court.

READ MORE: Will prosecutors lose a key witness in the John Jonchuck case? Defense attorneys say they should.

Lazarou asked Jonchuck who was going to die? He replied: "Everybody in the world."

Phoebe plummeted 62 feet from the Dick Misener Bridge into Tampa Bay on Jan. 8, 2015. A police officer said he watched Jonchuck pull over, lift Phoebe from the back seat of his car and drop her over the edge.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck

"I think about her every night, in the mornings when I wake up," Jonchuck told the psychiatrist, according to the records. He said he still has "bad dreams" in which his daughter is "laying there" and he can't "get her to wake up."

Jonchuck elaborates: "Because I was a really good father and she loved me so much and I always promised her that I'm not going to let anything happen, and I did."

Speculation has held that he had a psychotic break, or faked one to try to get away with murder, that drugs eroded his mind, or that strange religious diversions led him to the water.

He carried around a Swedish Bible in the days before Phoebe's death, including to the office of a lawyer who called authorities about his bizarre behavior. She said he had referred to her as the "creator." Jonchuck's stepmother said he "became fixated," spreading salt around doors to ward off evil. A receptionist at a church said he claimed to have learned he was related to the Pope. He referred to Phoebe as a demon.

When police stopped him after he drove away from the bridge where he let go of Phoebe, Jonchuck had two Bibles in the car. One was open to a passage: "You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters."

The psychiatrist asked Jonchuck why he cared about everyone else dying. "Because I felt like with that Bible that night I was telling everybody that I was the Creator," he said.

And: "Because I felt like the voices were telling me something that was real."

And: "Because I didn't want anybody else to get hurt."

Jonchuck's lawyers plan to argue he cannot be convicted because he was insane, unaware what he was doing was wrong, when he killed Phoebe. The trial, already delayed several times, is scheduled for March. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison.

Until then, he is expected to continue receiving treatment at a state evaluation center in Gainesville.

Times Staff Writer Lane DeGregory contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at or (727) 893-8804. Follow @zacksampson. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or Follow @ByJoshSolomon.


  1. Olivia Pruna, a student at Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center, practices with the school's drum line last year. The Pinellas County school district is asking parents and others for suggestions on ways to improve exceptional student education in the county. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  2. Steven Currall prepares to deliver an address during his investiture as the University of South Florida's seventh president Thursday at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Though he started the job in July, Steve Currall is officially installed as president on his 137th day in office.
  3. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  4. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  5. USF student Gabriela Young is the owner of Earth and Ivory, an online jewelry business with items made out of clay.  [Special to the Times | Sarah Foster] SARAH FOSTER  |  Special to the Times | @sarahtheartiste
    Gabriela Young went from selling bracelets to friends to making clay wares for customers with her business, Earth and Ivory.
  6. Celina Okpaleke conducts a choir singing traditional African songs during an African Mass at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Tampa on Nov. 10. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    November is Black Catholic History Month, a time to learn and share stories about the intrepid and devout.
  7. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.
  8. An opened capsule containing Kratom. The Clearwater City Council was confronted by dozens of concerned citizens at a recent meeting who urged them not to ban the herbal supplement. Tampa Bay Times
    “I think there was a misunderstanding."
  9. St. Petersburg's new 26-acre Pier District, with components that will include a coastal thicket walking path, marketplace, playground and pavilion, is nearing completion. Shown is the tilted lawn in front of the Pier head building that is being created  with Geofoam, soil and grass. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    St. Petersburg hopes to sell naming rights in the Pier District — available for annual payments of $50,000 to $1 million for 10-year terms — to help offset taxpayer subsidies.
  10. Tech Data chief executive officer Rich Hume talks to company employees about the pending acquisition of Tech Data for $5.4 billion at a global town hall meeting on Wednesday morning. David Kiester | Tech Data
    Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share of Tech Data stock. If shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County.